Students and faculty share their experiences and advice on maintaining good mental health at work
On Wednesday, March 11, the Jack.org Mount Allison exec hosted a panel on mental health in the workplace in Tweedie Hall. Jack.org invited Mt. A students and faculty from different backgrounds to share their own thoughts and experiences about mental health in work settings. The panel was moderated by Briann Scovil, one of the co-leads from Mt. A’s Jack.org chapter.
Jack.org is a Canada-wide charity that helps teach young leaders how to change the way we think about mental health. Through different talks and summits, leaders of Jack.org provide others with ways to identify positive mental health for them in their community.
The panel consisted of Maggie Brewer, Mt. A’s mental health and harm reduction educator; Anne Comfort, the director for accessibility and student wellness; Risha McKenney, a fourth-year honours student in chemistry; and Anna Campbell, a fourth-year psychology and sociology student.
The panelists were asked if there were any current practices or policies surrounding mental health in their workplace. “Some of the managers will come into the camp and check to see how we’re doing,” said Campbell, who has been working as a camp counsellor for the past seven years. “If we have any mental health issues we are encouraged to tell our manager and our employer.”
Comfort shared some of the practices and policies that Mt. A has in place. “For unionized staff there are some specific leave plans that are clearly outlined. There’s also informal procedures and practices that are in place,” she said. “So it’s not unusual for a staff member to have to take a day and not to explain why you’re having to take a day.”
Other panelists discussed what policies they think should be implemented at their workplaces. “I think Mount Allison does things really well here,” said Brewer. “If I was to have to say something, it would be that I would like to see healthier food options.” Brewer explained that an important thing to do when taking care of your mental health is to eat healthy, and that Mt. A could help those who spend long periods of time on campus achieve that by adding healthy options in the vending machines.
“I’ve been working in the Wellness Centre for two years now and I’ve had a very positive experience,” said McKenney. “One thing I hope they continue is that my employers always encourage that my school and mental health come first.” McKenney explained that it’s important for employees to be able to ask for a day off when they need it and to not feel stressed out over it.
Panelists also shared personal stories of times that they themselves had to deal with a mental health crisis at work. Comfort shared a story of a former supervisor who dismissed her co-worker’s declining mental health. “She wasn’t seeing that my co-worker was struggling. That was really difficult,” she said. Comfort explained that she reported the supervisor to her vice-president. “It was really hard for me to do that, and it was hard for me to watch.”
Brewer spoke about how to respond to a crisis in the workplace. She explained that taking care of yourself is a crucial part of helping others, and that you need to take care of your own mental health after handling a crisis at work. “It’s so important for you to check in with your supervisor or your co-worker and to have support,” said Brewer. “If you’re not taking care of yourself and having those proper check-ins, that [crisis] can really impact you.”
Lastly, panelists were asked what they believe employers and management can do to better support their staff with their mental health. Comfort spoke about employers forming relationships with their employees. “I think when you get to know the people that work for you, you’re more likely to see when there’s something that doesn’t seem quite right,” she said. Comfort also explained that minimizing the damage to the employee’s reputation if they experience difficulty with their mental health can better support them, by “trying to make sure that it doesn’t blow up into something that is then going to later on make it hard for them to walk back into the workplace.”
McKenney spoke about how even small friendly interactions in the workplace can make a positive difference. “It’s the littlest things that make your work experience much more positive,” said McKenney. “It’s the little stuff like ‘Hi, how are you?’ that just kind of opens the doors.”
Lastly, panelists spoke about positive work experiences they’ve had. Brewer specifically talked about how Mt. A has been a positive work environment for her. “We’re really encouraged to take lunch breaks, to get out and go to the gym, to just stop and close your laptop,” she said. “It’s important to get your mind to unplug. It’s so important to take care of ourselves and to be aware of what’s going on.”